Over the past 30 years I’ve counseled over a thousand engaged couples. When I’m asked, “What’s the most critical issue of marriage that we need to focus on?” my answer is simple. Apart from nurturing a vital and growing relationship with Jesus Christ the most critical issue is the 6th key to building strong families: In a healthy home people have learned how to listen, ask questions and nurture quality communication.
As goes the communication so goes the relationship. Without communication there is no relationship. Of course this principle applies to all of our relationships: parent and child, brother and sister, pastor and congregation, employer and employee as well as friend and friend.
A ten-year study revealed that happily married couples differ from unhappily married couples in that they talk more to each other, convey feelings that they understand what is being said to them, have a wider range of subjects available to them, preserve communication channels and keep them open, show more sensitivity to each other’s feelings and realize the importance of nonverbal aspects of communication.
How can something that seems as simple as talking be so difficult? One reason is that many people don’t understand the complexities of clear communication. If you want to increase the quality of your communication here are several principles to keep in mind.
Principle #1: First of all, remember that quality communication takes time. Not necessarily a lot of time. Yet on a regular basis we need to make time for quality conversation. Most of us communicate on the run and have a lot of things on our mind. That’s not a problem if we’re discussing insignificant issues. But it can become a major problem if, for at least one of us, the issue is significant.
Since good communication doesn’t just happen, smart families set aside a regular time each week for focused communication. Put it on your calendar. Take the phone off the hook. Unless you are a physician there are probably no life-or-death calls. During the week make a list of things you want or need to tell those you love about your work, things that God is teaching you, frustrations and concerns, plans for the future, the next weeks schedule and anything else.
Principle #2: The second principle is that quality communication involves more than words. Many assume that if we just use the right words others will understand what we mean. Communication can be difficult because often what we intend to say and what the other person thinks we meant can be substantially different.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian spent years studying the components of communication. He found that often the actual words we say only account for 7% of how someone interprets our message. Our tone of voice accounts for 38% and other non-verbal’s such as body posture, gestures, eye contact and facial expressions account for 55%.
Most people focus on the 7% and often ignore the other 93%. When one of these components contradicts the other a mixed-message is sent. Confusion and frustration replaces clear communication.
Principle #3: A third practical idea is to purpose in your heart to pursue excellence in listening. Most people don’t understand that one of the most important aspects of quality communication is listening. That’s right! Quality communication involves much more than talking.
One writer stated that most conversations are dialogues of the deaf. Ecclesiastes 3:7 states that there is a time to keep silent and Proverbs 10:14 tells us that only a fool ignores that fact. Proverbs 21:11 says, “The wise man learns by listening.” In Proverbs 18:13 we read, “What a shame–yet, how stupid!–to decide before knowing the facts.”
David Augsburger writes, “Love is listening. Love is the opening of your life to another. Through sincere interest, simple attention, sensitive listening, compassionate understanding and honest sharing . . . an open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart. You learn to understand life–you learn to live–as you learn to listen.”
Make your number one objective to understand the other person. Studies have shown that most people can listen five times as fast as someone can speak. This means that during a conversation it is easy for our minds to wander. If it’s an important conversation take some notes. Learn to ask questions that clarify the issue. Cultivate the ability to restate the person’s message in your own words.
Principle #4: My fourth simple suggestion is to remember that quality communication involves small talk. Small talk isn’t always insignificant talk. There are some whose first question is “What’s the bottom line?” Only focusing on the bottom line makes about as much sense as looking only at the last sentence of a love-letter, watching the last 10 minutes of a movie or arriving at church to hear only the last five minutes of the pastor’s message.
God loves you. He sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross and save you from your sins. God designed you to be in relationship with Himself and with others. He tells us that without communication there is no relationship.
From the beginning of time God has made time in His busy schedule to communicate with us. For centuries He has carefully protected His infallible written communication to us. God repeatedly asks us to make time to communicate with him. He has promised to make time to listen to us. Day or night He is there wanting us to talk with Him and waiting for us to listen to Him. If communication is that important to God it makes sense that it needs to be equally important to us.